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What is an OS?

by   Abhijat Vichare, et al.

While the engineering of operating systems is well understood, their formal structure and properties are not. The latter needs a clear definition of the purpose of an OS and an identification of the core. In this paper I offer definitions of the OS, processes and files, and present a few useful principles. The principles allow us to identify work like closure and continuation algorithms, in programming languages that is useful for the OS problem. The definitions and principles should yield a symbolic, albeit semiquantitative, framework that encompasses practice. Towards that end I specialise the definitions to describe conventional OSes and identify the core operations for a single computer OS that can be used to express their algorithms. The assumptions underlying the algorithms offer the design space framework. The paging and segmentation algorithms for conventional OSes are extracted from the framework as a check. Among the insights the emerge is that an OS is a constructive proof of equivalence between models of computation. Clear and useful definitions and principles are the first step towards a fully quantitative structure of an OS.


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